Marshall University President Wade Gilley will chair a task force to examine mountaintop removal mining, Gov. Cecil Underwood announced Thursday.Gilley, an engineer, was chosen by Underwood a day after the governor said he would form the group to study growing criticism of mountaintop removal."One of the things that the governor was interested in was getting someone who has a great deal of credibility and doesn't represent any particular side in this issue," said Rod Blackstone, Underwood's press secretary.The task force will have 11 to 15 members. The other members have not been appointed yet.
Gilley said he hopes to have a meeting by early June. The group may attend a state Division of Environmental Protection-sponsored tour of strip mines June 8-10.The governor's office had said Underwood wanted someone other than DEP officials to run the task force. DEP has been under fire for not being tough enough on coal companies that run mountaintop removal mines."The governor said he wanted an impartial study," Gilley said Thursday."I think it's an important issue," Gilley said. "We need to take a logical, dispassionate look, and that's what the governor indicated he wanted. I think we really need to look at the facts."Gilley, president of Marshall since 1991, received a doctorate in environmental engineering from Virginia Tech. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering.Gilley said his academic work as an engineer did not involve surface mining issues.Dan Page, the governor's communications director, said Gilley "is someone who is an arm's length away from the coal industry. Marshall doesn't mine coal down there. They education students."Underwood said the task force would include industry and environmental representatives, along with regulators and coalfield residents. The group is supposed to report back to the governor by Dec. 1.